Ed Snider Shrugged: The Flyers owner’s long history with Ayn Rand

Snider called Rand “the most brilliant person I’ve ever met” and after her death, it was Snider who personally brought together the group that founded the Ayn Rand Institute. Her teachings helped guide Snider in his life and the principles of objectivism drive the Flyers organization to this day.

When Ed Snider died last week, the city mourned one of the great sports owners of the last 50 years. When his beloved Flyers returned home for their first playoff game this postseason, the team eulogized Snider with a touching video tribute for the man who brought hockey to Philadelphia and built his team into one of the top National Hockey League franchises.

Thursday, the Flyers and Comcast-Spectacor open the doors of the Wells Fargo Center, the arena Snider developed into one of the premier sports and entertainment facilities in the country, for a public celebration and remembrance: “A Celebration of Ed’s Life.”

flyers-snider
Philadelphia Flyers

While most of the eulogies over the last week—in print, on television, in arenas around the NHL during the playoffs—have focused on Snider’s dedication, determination and drive as an owner and family man, what’s been largely missing so far has been an exploration of his decades-long relationship with Ayn Rand.

In 2007, Snider spoke at the 50th-anniversary celebration of Rand’s signature novel, Atlas Shrugged, explaining how he came to follow Rand’s ideals and what it’s meant to him in business, and in life.

Snider fell in love with Rand’s work after reading Atlas Shrugged, and wrote to her in 1976 to ask if he could fund a college course on capitalism that she would design, with the goal of having the course taught in colleges and universities around the country. In the letter, Snider told Rand he had given out 30 books to friends, colleagues and his family, and asked Rand how he could order 100 more.

In those days before email, Rand replied. She told Snider that she liked his plan to create a college course on her teachings. The two then met in New York to discuss, for lack of a better term, world domination.

Snider explained in his speech that he used his influence with the University of Pennsylvania to convince them to create a trial course in the philosophy department on the principles of objectivism. The trial seminar was a success with students but panned by faculty, to which Snider joked—I think—about using his money and influence to get a professor with a dissenting view replaced in that department.

Snider called Rand “the most brilliant person I’ve ever met” and after her death, it was Snider who personally brought together the group that founded the Ayn Rand Institute.

After Snider’s passing, David Kelley, founder and executive director of The Atlas Society, wrote this:

Ed had the patrician look and bearing (without the character flaws) of Gail Wynand in The Fountainhead. But he was open and interested in people from all walks of life. On a visit to his office once, we went for lunch to a local diner. On the way out, a Flyers fan approached him to challenge a call in a recent hockey game. Ed must have heard that kind of thing endlessly, but he engaged the man with courtesy and thanked him.

Snider was a hard-nosed capitalist, yes, but he lived with his heart on his sleeve for the Flyers, endearing him to his working-class fan base like no other owner in the city. Generations of Flyers fans felt they could relate to Snider because of his passion for the team. Even after his passing, his passion lives on, as his posthumous opinion on the wristband debacle Monday night carried more weight than anyone’s.

In the close of that 2007 speech, Snider referenced a movie that was being made about Atlas Shrugged. It took until 2011 for the film to be released, after many stops and starts, and contrary to Snider’s hope for it to be a success, the film was an enormous critical disaster.

That didn’t stop people from making several sequels, though Snider was not listed as an executive producer on any of those, as he was for the first film. In a 2011 interview promoting the film, Snider said he was “almost embarrassed about the title,” that he did little to deserve other than introduce those who funded the project and “had the guts” to make the film. The “liberal agenda” of Hollywood and the media, Snider explained, kept the project down for decades.

Long before both that 2007 speech or the 2011 film, Rand personally had a hand in Snider’s success, as his development of Spectacor—eventually becoming the sports and entertainment behemoth Comcast-Spectacor —was not only built upon her objectivist principles, but often with her direct counsel and involvement in bringing Snider together with other, like-minded believers. This from Rachael Migler’s 1986 Philly Mag story on Snider’s relationship with Rand.

After Snider’s first meeting with Rand in New York, he was hooked. Afternoons and evenings, they’d sit together in restaurants, cafes or Rand’s apartment, swapping save-the-world schemes. Rand respected self-made men, which Snider, who built much of his mammoth, multi-million dollar Spectacor corporation from scratch, certainly was. Snider, in turn, was thrilled to have his own personal philosopher. “Ayn was warm and charming, the strongest, most brilliant person I’ve ever met,” he says. “She could see things instantly.”

For years, as the Flyers looked to stay competitive in an ever-increasing global game of hockey that had come to the NHL, Snider’s team seemed to purposefully lack a Russian presence, even as top Russian players came to the United States and helped other top teams—hello, Detroit—win multiple Stanley Cups. Flyers fans can thank Rand’s beliefs for that, as well. Again, from Philly Mag:

Snider’s philosophy has also found its way into his business decisions. This winter, the Soviet Red Army hockey team toured the United States, playing the National Hockey League teams. The take at the Spectrum turnstiles would have been excellent. But Snider decided the Flyers would not play the Reds. In fact, he doesn’t want any Russian events at the Spectrum anymore. After all, objectivism is diametrically opposed to the way the Soviet Union’s political system denies individuals’ freedom.

The piece explained that in the mid 1980s—less than half a decade after the Miracle on Ice—Snider suggested the NHL champion play in a “Super Series” with the Soviet champion. But it was objectivist Leonard Peikoff and Snider’s own son, Jay, who the elder Snider converted to objectivism one summer in college, who changed his mind about the series, and set him on a much different path with regard to Russian hockey stars.

“It’s a question of taking a stand for freedom, of putting morality ahead of hockey,” he says. “We legitimize the Russians by competing with them and giving them a status they don’t deserve, as criminals, any more than Hitler deserved when he hosted the Olympics in the’30s. This isn’t a political decision; it’s a moral one.”

That quote was from 1986, some 16 months before Ronald Reagan implored Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall” and half a decade before the end of the Cold War. And still that belief remained with Snider, and the Flyers, long after. Last year, Travis Hughes of Broad Street Hockey had a look into the lack of Russian players on the Flyers over the years he titled, “A complete history of the Philadelphia Flyers’ bias against Russian players.” It’s interesting to think about all the moves the Flyers made over the years—all the general managers and coaches and draft picks and trades and big-ticket free agents—in the construct of objectivism, and how those beliefs may have impacted things on South Broad. The success and the struggles.

Snider’s attempt to get an Atlas Shrugged film off the ground dated back nearly as long as he owned the Flyers. This 1991 profile on Spectacor by Terry Bivens in the Inquirer credits Rand for introducing Snider to then Spectacor CEO Michael Jaffe.

Both Snider and Jaffe are fervent admirers of Ayn Rand and her philosophy of self-determinism. In fact, the late author introduced the two men in 1978, Jaffe recalled during an interview. (The two men tried, without success, to bring Rand’s Atlas Shrugged to the screen.)

“At that time, Ed owned Prism, and we produced a soap opera for him,” Jaffe said. “It was good business. We became friends. And before long, we started talking about a partnership.”

That story also mentioned, somewhat in passing, that Snider played a “pivotal role” in convincing then Los Angeles Raiders owner Al Davis to stay in Los Angeles and play at the LA Coliseum. The Raiders eventually returned to Oakland in 1995. Spectacor, at the time, was dabbling in making films—mostly made-for-TV movies—while Snider’s real success came in stadium and arena development and management. Now called Spectra, a division of Comcast-Spectacor, that facet of the family business runs and operates hundreds of venues around the world.

Through all his dealings, Snider saw the world for what it was: Conquerable. He kept copies of Atlas Shrugged in an office closet to give out to those he thought would appreciate it.

Snider loved this city and his Flyers, and fans of his team surely loved what he did to keep them competitive over the years. And as fans, friends and contemporaries gather in his arena to honor and remember his life, it’s surely worth remembering the principles that drove him to much of his success. Ayn Rand may not make a cameo in Thursday’s program, but her principles helped build the building, the team, and the man.

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